China wants to control how its famous streamers behave and dress

Zeng, who asked to be referred to by her last name so as not to be identified, thought it was ridiculous. “I don’t think she did anything unreasonable or morally depraved by today’s standards.” On the contrary, I think she’s doing something that can help everyone,” she says. Longfei’s account was eventually restored in June.

Live streaming entered China in 2016 and has since become one of the nation’s favorite ways to spend chunks of free time, with 635 million viewers. The best live streamers command audiences in e-commerce, music, gaming and comedy and make huge revenue from their millions of dedicated fans. As a result, they can often wield as much influence as A-list celebrities.

But many streamers, like Lawyer Longfei, are struggling with the Chinese government’s growing willingness to judge what is acceptable. A new policy document, Code of Conduct for Online Streamers, released by China’s top cultural authorities on June 22, aims to instruct streamers on what is expected of them. After managing to operate under the radar in recent years, live streamers are now facing the full force of China’s censorship machine.

The code of conduct lists 31 categories of content that should not appear in online videos, ranging from violence and self-harm to more ambiguous concepts such as religious teachings and displays of wealth. The guidelines also include streamer appearance rules and bans using deepfakes to make jokes for China’s leadership.

“I think of it as an upward integration effort that aims to cover the entire country, all online platforms, and any genre of online streamers,” said Jingyi Gu, a doctoral student studying Chinese streamers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. . It replaces previous regulations that are disparate or provincial, and also complements other regulations governing platforms and marketing companies. “[This one] sees online streamers as a profession in their own right, just like actors,” says Gu.

It is clear that the Chinese government is in the process of taming an industry that has become too powerful to ignore. Over the past year, some of the best live streamers in China fell from their thrones after being fined for tax evasion or instigating censorship around political events. But by putting the restrictions on paper, the Code of Conduct paves the way for further interventions in the future.

“The End of the Universe”

There is a saying that is popular in China right now: “The end of the universe is selling live things.” It pokes fun at the fact that these days, professionals of all trades…lawyers, teachers, celebrities— seem to have turned into streamers making money as QVC-style product presenters.

“Americans and Europeans definitely don’t think of live streaming as a major channel for shopping, and probably not even a major channel for entertainment, but in China it has become extremely popular,” says Gu.

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